Our Tracker – Uda Welawe National Park, Sri Lanka

By: leelefever on March 14, 2006 - 6:37am

We were really excited to go on Sri Lanka’s version of a wildlife safari in Uda Welawe Park, home to over 400 elephants on 75,000 acres of park. The wildlife was great, but looking back, the most memorable experience was our “tracker” who rode along with us over 2.5 hours in the back of a land rover.

When he got in the truck, it became quickly apparent that he was a skinny, partially toothless, jovial guy who spoke only broken English. This was the first sign that he may not be the tracker that we imagined. I had pictured someone who made a profession of understanding wildlife and could interpret everything before us. This was not the case- not by a long shot.

One of our first indications was when we saw some monkeys in a tree. I asked the tracker about the species – “what kind of monkey?” After conferring with the driver, he turned to us and said “black monkey” with a semi-confident nod. It was a Gray Hangar Monkey and our tracker didn’t know.

Soon after, we heard birds in a tree. He turned to us and said “bird noises”. All I could say was “yeah, thanks” before Sachi me and the tracker burst out laughing. I’m not sure he knew why.

The most commonly sighted bird of the day was the peacock- they were everywhere. For the first few he pointed to them and said “peacock”. At least he knew a peacock from a spotted dove. What he didn’t know was when to stop. After about the 30th peacock and the 30th identification by our tracker, we just began to laugh each time. So did he- though I’m not sure if he knew why. To this day, “peacock” is our word for something we see over and over.

As it turns out, the trackers are not hired based on expertise, but political favors. Our tracker was someone who might have otherwise been unemployed. The park was helping with the unemployment problem in Sri Lanka and our tracker was a likely beneficiary.

In the end, we didn't learn a lot, but saw many great animals and laughed a lot between the three of us. He is a good man that has a good time and laughs a lot, even if he's not much of a tracker and for that, he got a nice tip from us.

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